To its fans Dragonball Z makes perfect sense. It's classic Japanese anime, with bonkers fighting scenes, spiky haired warriors and earth shattering super powers. To everyone else it's just a bit mental. Question is, has Osaka-based development studio Dimps done enough to propel Dragonball Z Burst Limit, the manga's first 'next-gen' video game, through the fan service stratosphere and into the realm of the serious fighter?
The answer is, rather disappointingly, no. DBZ:BL is easy to pick up and play, which is great for DBZ fans who aren't fighting game veterans, and its combat system has enough depth to please those who have mastered the odd quarter circle combo, which is great. But the lack of variety in character play styles and arenas, as well as the nonsensical 'Drama Piece' system which sees cut scenes trigger in the middle of fights completely randomly, holds Burst Limit back.
Players will be able to pick up and play Burst Limit because every character has the same basic move set, all implemented using the face buttons. There's a block button, two attack buttons and a Ki projectile attack. Screen filling special moves are a simple case of combining a d-pad direction with the Ki button. This will be enough for players of all ability levels to get through the game's primary single-player offering, the Z Chronicles story based mode, when played on the easier difficulty settings (there are six). But this is also the game's downfall. Because every single character works in the same way there's very little variation to keep things interesting.
Sure, the characters, of which there are well over 20, move at different speeds and are different sizes, but at the end of the day you'll be able to transfer everything you've learnt with one character over to the rest of the ample roster with little difficulty.
It's a shame, because the easy to pick up but hard to master combat system works well and requires a degree of skilful timing other more illustrious fighters would be proud of. This is mostly down to the game's evading and counter system. Time a block and a direction of the d-pad just as an enemy attack hits and you'll swiftly sneak around and smack them in the back. Sounds simple, but it's not. The fast and frenetic pace of Burst Limit means you'll need android style hand eye coordination to pull this move off every time.
Adding fuel to the fan service fire is the baffling single player story mode. Essentially a series of one off fights categorised by their place in three separate DBZ sagas, anyone not familiar with the animated TV show will be left scratching their heads and heading straight for Wikipedia. The game makes no effort to ease players in either. It's basically saying: 'If you don't understand who these characters are, and the reason why they're kicking two lumps out of each other, tough luck.' We don't have a major problem with this, but it would have been nice to have had some kind of intro to give context to the combat.
On the plus side the game's graphics are gorgeous. The cell-shaded look and feel fits perfectly with Dragonball Z's manga origins. The character models are large and detailed, with good facial expressions and attack animations. They're animated in 3D, but, bar some side-stepping, Burst Limit works like a 2D fighter, which is somewhat of a disappointment given the immense size of the arenas. Speaking of the arenas, they're a collection of largely uninspired backgrounds that never catch the eye. For a fighter that sees as much action on the ground as it does in the air, it would have been nice for a similar level of attention to be served on the environments as the impressive characters.
Importantly, the online functionality works well. We experienced little to no lag when playing a game against someone in Europe. You'll find things get ropey the further afield you search for opponents though. It's a shame that the online functionality is limited to one off matches, with no battle rooms or spectator modes, but these omissions don't prevent Burst Limit from being a blast online, especially when you find yourself matched up against an opponent of similar skill.
But the biggest problem with Burst Limit is the 'Drama Piece' system. Before each match you can pick up to three status changing Drama Pieces which trigger cut scenes reminiscent from the TV series (in the story mode the Drama Pieces are predetermined to ensure continuity with famous fights from the show). These might give you a boost to your Ki Gauge, speed or power, as well as send in other fighters for a brief helping hand. They look great and do help add a layer of excitement to the combat, but the problem is that they trigger completely randomly. The cut scenes 'cut in' whenever they want and can't be skipped. At the end of the day, it's a great idea in theory by disappointingly implemented. We would have loved to have had at least some control over their use.
We can't help but feel that Burst Limit is an opportunity lost. Certainly the game will please fans of the series by virtue of having every single character they could possibly want, with solid combat mechanics, lovely graphics and online play that actually works. But there's little effort here to make the most of the power of the 'next gen' consoles and create an innovative anime fighting game. I'm not asking for a cel-shaded Virtua Fighter. All I'm asking for is some variation, and Drama Pieces that don't have a life of their own.